Discussion Questions for “Alone Together”

For November, my book club* read Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together. In it, Turkle, a professor at MIT, investigates how our relationship with technology has developed. In part 1, she writes about robots, from tamagotchis and furbies to robots for elderly care, and how we interact with and feel about them. In part 2, she writes about how Facebook, texting, and online communities have changed our relationships with each other.

Since it can be heavy reading, we focused primarily on the second half of the book. In all, we were pretty neutral about the book. Although she had many good points, some of her examples seemed somewhat extreme, and we also felt that there was a lot of bias. I think we spent most of the discussion disagreeing with her, but she brings up some very interesting topics for discussion. Below are the discussion questions we worked from, which I think are interesting enough even having not read the book. I have, however, added a bit more context for it.

  1. Turkle writes about how we develop an online self  that is independent of our real life self. What do you think of that?
    1. Pete spends significant about of time on Second Life talking Jade, a sort of second wife. He notes that it’s easier to talk to Jade about some issues than his real wife because he doesn’t have to be concerned with Jade worrying about him like his wife would. Thoughts? What is it about the medium that makes this work?
    2. Adolescents seem worry a lot about their Facebook profiles and the sort of person that it portrays. This includes the obvious things such as profile pictures, but also minor things such as the order of artists in “favorite music”. Have you cared so much about your online presentation?
  2. Turkle suggests that thee digital world can’t offer the same opportunities for relationships that real life can.
    1. Is this a problem? Is there a place for this type of relationship?
    2. How does this work for adolescents or others who aren’t fully capable of developing relationships?
  3. We love multitasking because it makes us feel productive. We love technology because it allows us to be on-call at all times to respond to things. Neither of these, however, are working well for us. Multitasking makes us less efficient at all of the things we’re working on , and being more able to quickly deal with problems leads to more stress
    1. Are you okay with this change?
    2. What is it about this method of working that appeals so strongly to us?
    3. If you think it’s bad, how do we reverse this trend?
  4. Time is a big theme. Technology leads us to expect faster responses to each other. Technology also makes us expect things to develop quickly, whereas many things in real life (relationships in particular) happen incrementally over a long time.
    1. Adolescents today are growing up like this. How do you see this affecting us in the future?
    2. How have you expectations changed about response times with technology?
  5. Being disrupted sounds bad, but really, we love it. We check our email and Facebook obsessively for updates. We love the ping of push notifications like texts and emails, and it’s all instant gratification
    1. It may seem intrinsic to the technology, but products are designed to get us addicted to using it. Do ou think this is good?
    2. How does this change our reward system?
  6. The phone call is dying. These days, we don’t use the phone as much because we’re often not up to the demands of it. Many adolescents love the fact that texts can be carefully constructed, whereas phone calls
  7. because we can’t meet the demands of it. There’s a lot of talk about being able to control things better when it’s done via text, where you can edit your message exactly as you like.
    1. How important is it to you to be able to control the message you present when talking to others?
    2. Do you see phone calls as a lot of pressure?
    3. Is texting more or less efficient than talking?
  8. Another benefit to texting is that it’s asynchronous. Suddenly, we see phone calls as a possible inconvenience to others as we demand their attention immediately, and maybe they’re busy
    1. Before, we mentioned that we like being disrupted, though. How do we resolve this?
    2. Since when did we get so sensitive about bothering others?
  9. PostSecret and communities. The internet is supposed to be our liberation as free flow of information allows us to develop the exact communities that really fit us.
    1. Are these communities good substitutes for what we have in reality?
    2. Turkle seems to believe that these aren’t real communities in that you can run from the bad stuff. Is she right?
    3. What about authenticity in these? Is it okay that a good portion of PostSecret is fake? Or FML?
  10. Technology is supposed to make us feel better. We’re constantly connected so if bad things happen, we have a safety blanket. It also, however, makes us anxious as we’re tied to it
    1. Is this inherent in the design of these things?

2 thoughts on “Discussion Questions for “Alone Together””

  1. Hi Kevin,

    While surfing the internet looking for questions for a book discussion on Alone Together, I came across your questions on your website.

    Did you write these yourself? If not, who wrote them?

    And can I have permission to use them for the book groups that I’m putting together?

    Warmly,

    Heather

    1. Sure thing. I wrote up the topics myself, and you’re more than welcome to use them for your own book club. I hope your discussion goes well, and let me know what you think of it afterwards!

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